There are many really memorable and important Japanese movies. Here are links to three that I like because of how they reflect on Japanese humor, food and sensibilities/values. Who knows, maybe you will find something here that you will enjoy.
What’s not to like about Japan? In fact I am pretty content no matter where I go. I am not a very good tourist but then I don’t have to be one on most of my trips. These mission-specific trips are just the thing for a utilitarian guy like me. Having work to do connects me with people, events and things in a very satisfying way. Once the students have the opportunity to see the man behind the curtain, many potential pretensions and barriers get dropped. I doubt that I get the kind of global view of a region that guided groups get but I don’t really care. It is the personal connection that I like. And I don’t have to concern myself with an itinerary because I get squired around or at least told about interesting places to see and things to do.
I also like discovering country/region-specific solutions to everyday problem. They are often unfamiliar, curious and inventive. Things like parking meters, toilets, traffic rules and patterns and signage amuse and bemuse me. Some examples on this trip include:
-Although plenty of places still have squat-down, flush toilets, many have toilets mounted with electronic panels to control seat temperature, and yes, bidets/spray devices built into the seats. I am not sure if these are a step up or not.
-While nearly everything is written in Japanese, occasionally English words appear intermixed on billboards or buildings. This would be expected for obvious international brand names like Coke or when there was no satisfactory Japanese word. The latter was especially true with some medical terms. But these were not always the apparent reasons. One gas station chain that has Japanese characters plastered all over their signs and building also posts a sign over a door noting SERVICE AREA. I was assured that there is a non-convoluted way to see this in Japanese. I did not see this English phrase at any other chain.
-I was confused by a particular traffic signal pattern. It consisted of 4 lights on an overhead horizontal bar controlling 3 lanes of traffic. The far right and left lights were red/green arrows for corresponding turns in those directions from the right and left lanes. Between them were 2 lights that could be either red or green. When we approached one such traffic signal, the right and left arrows were green. Appropriately, cars turned in each of those directions from the right and left lanes without first stopping. Between the arrows, the right side light was red; the left green. All cars in the center lane were moving without stopping. I wondered if we were being given a choice. Did a double green or red mean go and stop with special emphasis? What should we have done if the right was green and the left red? I assume keep driving. No one could explain this. In fact Tak, who was driving at the time, pled ignorance because he only has a Canadian driver’s license. He is from Japan.
-Apparently, the Japanese have ZERO tolerance for alcohol consumption and driving. Zero means NOTHING detectable. If you are stopped with any measurable amount, you lose your license on the spot and pay a hefty fine. Getting it back is not easy and is also quite expensive. Neither Tak nor Isamu would even drink a non-alcohol beer and drive. Despite the implication of their names, most contain a small amount of alcohol.
There were plenty of other things that caught my attention, but I will spare you, and me, the eye rolls.
It is clear to me that one’s alliance to a country or an idea oftentimes has more to do with familiarity, convenience and comfort than it does with it being superior or correct. I am happy to live here but realize that I could live many other places and be content. I came across the following quote that sums up how I feel about these trips.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Augustine of Hippo (aka St Augustine)
It is one thing to listen and read, it is another to experience. One place is as good, or bad, as another.
We will be heading for GA in about 2 weeks for some well-deserved, so I am told, R and R,
Our last day was incredibly clear so we had an unobstructed of Fuji in all of its glory. Everyone was snapping pictures. It is an important Japanese icon.
We started the day with the usual morning exercises. Because it was our last day at the center, I had to stand up in front of the 100+ others to introduce myself. The students in the class laughed good-naturedly at my hesitant greeting in Japanese. It turns out that they were delighted by my daily participation in the morning stretching routine. Japanese are all about respect. Being the owner and medical director of WMA and their teacher placed me on a high pedestal. That I would put myself out there only added to their collective pleasure. Many of the students wanted to have their picture taken with me. Accepting this attention rather than struggling with it is good for me. I hope that this is as close to karaoke as I have to get.
After packing up, Chizuru, Isamu, Tak, Toyota and I headed for a final celebratory sushi supper. The food, of course, was wonderful but it was the style that was the really fun part of our night out. As most of you know, at a traditional sushi restaurant, you sit at a counter and are served your food as soon as it is made. The purpose of this system is to avoid any time delays. Delays compromise quality because the food dries out. In an effort to increase business, restaurants set up tables. The problem with that setup is that despite the wait staff, there is an inevitable time delay between production and delivery. Over the years, one solution was to introduce conveyor belt trolleys. In this system, large varieties of dishes are circulated amongst the tables, the patrons being free to choose what they want. Although the food only stays out for a limited time, one still needs to be concerned about freshness as well as contamination by others.
The restaurant where we ate took the trolley idea to a new level. It has one long conveyor that winds around the restaurant in a glassed-in tunnel. Each table is serviced by its own branch conveyor angled at 90° to the main belt. Orders are entered on a touch screen menu. As soon a selection is made, the order time is noted on the screen and the prep process begins. Once complete, the food migrates around the restaurant on the main conveyor and is sidetracked to the correct spur for the table that ordered the dish. You add selections as you like. The wait staff removes used plates and brings really large dishes and drinks. Finding the correct table is the magic. The delivery plates (like a flat car on a train) are uniquely colored and marked on the side with some figures (code?), all apparently corresponding to individual tables. I couldn’t figure out how, but our plates knew when they arrived at our table. It may be that there was a scanner that recognized the code on the plate as ours and somehow levered it into our siding. Maybe it had something to do with shape. Certainly not a purist’s experience but it was fun. Regardless, the freshness was incredible and food wonderful.
Which brings me to food in general. The Japanese enjoy food as much as anyone. They pay attention to freshness, quality, preparation, and the experience. Sure, there is fast food/junk food for convenience and I suspect like other places they are gaining a foothold here. Still we got to enjoy some wonderful stuff at reasonable prices. I already mentioned the sushi. The Japanese eat a lot of fish. We had excellent quality several nights. Noodles – ramen, soba and udon – are also important. Apparently there are some regional variations of each either in how they are made or what they are cooked with. The udon we had was cooked with vegetables including squash (a local favorite) in a cast iron bowl. The noodles were thick and hardy and the broth itself was scalding hot. It was said that a local samurai believed that his foot soldiers (ashigaru) fought better when well fed. Our meal certainly fulfilled that criterion. In addition to chop sticks, we used a wooden ladle in the other hand to hold the noodles and broth out of the bowl so they could cool enough to slurp up. I always laugh to myself when I eat here, thinking back to our mother’s scolding about noisy eating. Here it is a sign of pleasure and appreciation.
That night we stayed in a hotel that had an onsen (actually, probably technically a sento or bath house). As it was open from 1500 (3 PM) – 1000 AM, I decided to partake when I woke at 0400. For me, they are another one of the pleasures in Japan. In one form or another, they are everywhere – freestanding, at sport centers and in hotels. The really authentic ones are hot springs. Like many things here, there is a ritual involved. They are segregated by sex. After undressing completely, you sit at your own station complete with a shower nozzle, a bowl, soap and shampoo. Most people scrub thoroughly twice, rinsing either with the shower nozzle or by filling the bowl with water and then dumping it over oneself. The hot bath follows. There is usually one main pool large enough for at least 6 people. Sometimes there is a sauna (I am sure they call them something else). Some also have smaller baths that have a variety of herbs. In one, it smelled like I was steeping in a large vat of miso soup.
The next 2 days we went to Mt Fuji and areas around it. We spend part of one day about 2/3 the way up the slope and another in a cave around its base. The cave is in an area known as “the sea of forest”, a heavily forested area known for lost hikers. Apparently people become disoriented there, in part because of the effect that volcanic rock can have locally on compass readings. It is also a good place for people to commit suicide in private. They are often not found for months or years. Suicide is a big problem for Japan.
Our home for the 5 days was turned over to the Japanese by the US government a number of years ago. Despite the downsize, the US military still maintains a substantial presence here including the remainder of the base across the road from where we are teaching. We heard reveille, the US national anthem and artillery practice from there, daily.
The Japanese government turned this parcel into a conference center. It is not typical of most US conference centers. The class rooms are large and spacious with comfortable seating and good technical support. The living accommodations are much more basic. Although I had a bed in a small room, many rooms are large open spaces where participants slept on futons piled on tatami floors (woven, mat-like). Dharmasuri and I had similar accommodations when we were here last January. We shared the center while with a number of groups with a broad spectrum of interests from adults to kids as young as 5 – 6 years old. Our meals are buffet-style, with some greens and sprouts, dishes with fish or pork and noodles. There is always enough vegetarian fair, and of course white rice with every meal. There was as a relative paucity of fruit and no dessert to speak of.
Each morning at 0600 we are greeted by announcements. At 0700 we have a community assembly complete with a flag raising, a speech or 2, and stretching. Everyone knows the drill. From childhood most people go through the same exact stretching routine called “radio stretching” accompanied by the same tune. When there are children here they raise the flag and stand out in front leading the stretches to music and narration. The other morning 4 kids raised the flag. It was hilarious. The point is to raise the Japanese and center flag in unison to the national anthem, reaching the top just at the end. The kids struggled with the process, getting the halyard twisted in the pulleys and either getting the flag to the top too soon or in a mad rush after the anthem was completed. They were kids being kids. Not once did any of the adults seem angry or frustrated. In fact everyone got a good laugh with their efforts. In addition, the kids had daily clean-up chores around the facility including their rooms.
I continue to be impressed with how well Isamu and Tak (our 2 Japanese instructors) translate for me. This is not as easy as our usual courses because of the amount of technical language used in the Wilderness Advanced Life Support course (WALS). Neither of them have a strong clinical background. It is an ongoing challenge but one we are all meeting. The feedback from our students bear this out.
Tak was worried on the last day because several students complained to him about the course the night before. He wasn’t sure if he should tell me. Because of the varied backgrounds of the students and the instructors I work with on this course, each course has a different feel and emphasis. I think the people he spoke with were expecting more practical skills and less medicine. Although we cover a lot of skills (and this one had more than most), the focus really is on how to use medicine in a remote environment. I sometimes joke that this course is a bait and switch. We entice people in with the word “advanced” but then downplay the value of technology. The advanced part has more to do with knowledge and its application than it does with tools and medication. And when it comes to patient care, basic skills may be even more important. True to form, the most experienced are the most restlessness about having to sit through the basics. They are also the ones who come up short when it is time to perform. My job is to offer opportunities. There are lessons to learn; some students are more open to learn them than others. The beauty here is that it is up to each individual. You can’t possibly meet all of their needs but we do try.
In the end the course turned out okay. The critics were quite happy and the vast majority of the students were thrilled. I have learned to temper my emotions and expectations about each one of these.
Wed 17 Oct:
As you may know, it has been pretty busy around here since the summer. In addition to 9-day electives in July and August, I was in AK in Sept followed by courses in VA, NY and now, Japan. In the middle of this, I have had my usual hospital shifts. Dharmasuri and I have also found the time to buy a 3 story building in Portland, in part to help house Nagaloka. If you follow her on facebook you will read more about that venture. I will focus on my stuff.
Last week, we completed our second Battlefield Medical Responder course (BMR) for 24 conflict-zone correspondents. We apparently learned something from the first one because this latest iteration represented a notable upgrade. The course was as equally satisfying as the first. I am not sure that students from other courses appreciate the immediacy and potential relevance of our training like those in the BMR. After the course wrapped up, I hung around our classroom at the Bronx Documentary Center for a few hours to watch films produced by some of our students. They included one on refugees in Sudan, children commandeered into military service in W Africa, and police operations to clean up the favelas in Rio de Janeiro in preparation for the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and summer Olympics in 2016. All of them were really powerful; all done without any seed money.
I returned home early Sat AM and was on a plane for Japan about 24 hours later. This is my second visit in 9 months. This course is again focused for doctors (8), paramedics (6) and nurses (6). In addition 4 of the students from the earlier course are returning for a refresher. We gained a good reputation with these professionals in January so there is a lot of enthusiasm for the course. 4 have traveled from the N of Japan where the earthquake and resulting tsunami (up to 40 meter/130+ ft) devastated the landscape. Here is a link to one of many videos posted online.
I arrived in Tokyo Monday evening, greeted by warm weather and Tues, by crystalline blue skies. Tuesday afternoon, we drove to Gotenbashi in Shizuokaken prefecture. This city is near the base of Mt Fuji. Shrouded in clouds on our arrival, it appeared out of the mist just before sunset. Like Mt Ranier near Seattle, Fuji dominates the view toward the NW. This morning, in an otherwise cloudless sky, it was haloed by a small, donut-shaped tuft of clouds. As tranquil as it appears, it last erupted 303 years ago and is overdue for another.
Last week I was in the Bronx helping to teach a new course, the Battlefield Medical Responder. You must be wondering how I got myself into this.
About a year ago, Tim Hetherington was killed in Libya. Tim was a prize-winning photojournalist and filmmaker/videographer. His death was deeply felt by combat-zone reporters everywhere, especially by Sebastian Junger. Although Sebastian is most famous for the book the Perfect Storm, for over 2 decades, he has reported with clarity, insight and compassion from many hotspots around the world. Tim and Sebastian were close friends and collaborators as the directors of the movie Restrepo. This documentary chronicles a year-long push by an infantry platoon to establish control over a strategically important location in a heavily contested area of Afghanistan. It is 93 minutes of riveting cinema that is masterfully done. Forget the questions of why we are there and all the good or bad that we may or may not be doing. Restrepo is about young men trying to do their job, a thankless and very difficult one. It left me numb and heartbroken. These men represent the too-often overlooked elephant in the room for America. They are the emotionally damaged goods of the last decade’s conflicts in the SW Asian theater. The costs of the repatriation, rehabilitation, and support that these people and their families will require will easily dwarf the costs of the materiel used to wage war. But this past week was about Tim and the others who risk their lives to tell the stories we don’t want to see and hear but need to. These are the images and descriptions of the soldiers and the collaterals, the women, children and the elderly, innocent victims of the purposeful and accidental acts of the combatants on both sides.
Although the big networks and print media provide training for their combat-zone correspondents, most freelancers working in these dangerous places live on meager budgets and therefore have none. After Tim’s death, Sebastian was haunted by grief and guilt, especially after learning that Tim might have been saved with some decent first aid. As a result, Sebastian organized a not-for-profit (RISC) to help underwrite the training for the freelancers. That’s where we came in. Sebastian approached us last autumn and asked if we would be interested in doing the training. He had only a vague notion of what he wanted, including some things that did not make sense to me. After my initial proposal was accepted, we went to work. The 24-hour course is based on our 16-hour first aid course, expanded to meet some special needs. The main foci included care under fire, travel concerns, and general medical/injury management. The leader for this project is Sawyer Alberi. After 6 years with the Coast Guard, she enlisted in the army reserves and has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a frontline, combat medic. Sawyer is a wonderful instructor who had a clear vision of where we needed to go. We used our usual teaching materials and then produced a supplement for the students.
The course was run at the Bronx Documentary Center (BDC) housed in a beautiful restored building on 151st Street in the Bronx. We stayed in Chelsey in lower Manhatten, near 23th and 3rd. Our backdrop was a classroom wall covered with photographs from the recent conflicts. It was a graphic reminder of why we were there. Each day was packed with didactic sessions, skill labs and simulated rescuer/patient interactions. We supplemented our usual class materials with body armor, sound effects, smoke flares and lots of fake blood powder. It was a lot of work for everyone involved. The neighborhood was engaged as well, especially when we conducted drills outside. On the final day the students had to pack a large, bleeding wound (innards of a chicken from which fake blood was hand pumped out) and rescue an unconscious, bleeding patient (180 lb dummy) in a simulated street scene.
We had 24 students in class, including photographers, writers, a cameraman, and several documentarians. We didn’t know much about any of them during the class. Later, in a bar sharing drinks after the class was over, we found out that many are award-winning journalists producing work that has appeared in important venues around the world.
It is hard to write about how all of this felt and the impact I believe we had. Given their zeal to get to the truth, I have little doubt that someone will use this training in an important way. We are scheduled for a course in London in Oct and Beirut sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. Below are a couple of links that have blog posts. The bronxdoc and facebook links have some pictures, too. I will forward a video link once it has been posted.
Sebastian Junger, Michael Kamber, Lily Hindy, the BDC and other members of RISC are to be commended for their collective vision and efforts.
One of the goods pieces of news I got was that the course was planned for Gufuskalar. It is a 2.5 hr drive on a good day up the W coast of Iceland, near the tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The facility itself is an abandoned Loran – C station that had been maintained by the USCG until 1995. It must have been a tough location to live for a single enlisted person or young family because of its location and weather. In the past, I have experienced fierce and persistent winds in the 80s that drives rain and snow like darts and takes your breath away. Still it is a unique and overall rewarding place to work because of these conditions and the dogged and uncomplaining nature of the Icelanders.
The class turned out to be smaller than expected because a number of potential students withdrew . It was probably a good idea that our student from Indonesia was one of the ones who decided to bail. A medical student, a couple of nurses, physicians and an EMT from Iceland as well as a nurse/paramedic from Finland showed up.
The first day was like most. I lot of talking about basic stuff. They are all courteously attentive and no one left. Although the weather was clear with just a touch of a breeze (about 20+MPH) in the beginning, conditions worsened toward the end of the day. The second day was pure Iceland and it stayed much the same through Friday. The attached picts and your imagination
The true value of this course (Wilderness Advanced Life Support) is really dependent on smart people with good ideas who are open, willing to challenge what I have to say and willing to share their ideas with all of us. I also have an expectation to learn new ideas that I can steal and then share with students at subsequent courses. Especially as we look toward doing more international courses, flexibility in what and how we teach are ever more important. There are new medications, tools, and procedures. There are even different generic names for familiar medications (e.g., paracetamol for acetaminophen; salbutamol for albuterol). This course worked for me.
As I intimated earlier, the landscape is breathtaking, some of it practically in our front dooryard. Snæfell mountain is across the road from the classroom. This 1450 m+ (4750 ft+) inactive volcano typifies Icelandic geography. The land begins as flat coastal and then rises abruptly. Because of the weather, Einar took a different route back to Reykjavik. Unfortunately, the conditions made taking any good pictures a joke. Suffice it to say, I saw more of this stark beauty.
I spent my last day in Iceland packing, sightseeing and visiting with Einar and Muncey. They seemed happy with the outcome and are hopeful we can do this again in 2 or 3 years. There was a young physician in the class that we hope will be interested in taking over from me in the future.
I made it back to GA despite arriving at the Keflavik airport 35 minutes before departure, lugging 75 lbs pounds of luggage on my back between terminals at JFK and surviving the cattle call for my flight to JAX.
And you wonder why I do all of this
I am here. On arising Monday, I was met with the kind of weather one expects here in March. It was blustery, with overcast skies and occasional rain. Before leaving, Einar and I had lunch with Huskie (another instructor) and then spend a few hours in the ICE SAR office.
Monday was a big news day because it is the first day of the corruption trial of the former PM of Iceland. Many believe that he is a scapegoat for the financial crisis that befell Iceland in 2008. In the end, as in the US, it is the privilege of the newly empowered party to beat up their predecessors. The irony of course is that although he is not completely blameless, the groundwork was laid by his predecessors and others more culpable have been let off. As Einar said, the former captain steered the ship of state toward an iceberg and then handed the helm over to his successor before the collision. Though I could not understand the news cast, the former PM had a look of equanimity, an almost resigned sense of amusement. No one I talked to had any doubt as to the unfairness of it all. They laughed when I asked if this was a kangaroo court. It was a new expression for them but one that made sense.
I don’t understand all of the details, but from the govt, to the banks and down to inexperienced investors, the eyes of Icelanders were bigger than their stomachs. Many individuals were playing fast and loose with investments, with hubris rather than real knowledge. The banks made choices that were predicated on delusions and they over extended their capabilities. When things crashed Icelanders were shocked and demoralized. The announcement came with reassurances that only one large bank would fail. Soon, others did as well. Sound familiar? Despite Parliament’s plan to seek bailout money for the failed private banks, Icelanders resisted. Their currency has been significantly devalued (1:60; now 1:125), but they are slowly working their way out of the mess.
They often use the expression “that is a 2007 idea” or some variation to indicate a foolish or unjustifiably optimist idea. 2007 was the apex of their financial delusion. They are resigned and seem to have surprisingly little bitterness.
The class starts on Tuesday.
I didn’t blog for our Africa, Japan and cross country trips. I wished I had. So, here I go again.
ICE SAR (Iceland Search and Rescue) was our first foray into training non-NA WMA instructors. That it has been modestly successful is a source of great pride for me. They have offered encouragement and a model for doing business in other countries. It is because of this and the friendliness of the people here that it is always a treat to come back.
As you may know, I have gotten a device that will allow you to see where I am. Well actually, it is a house arrest device that allows my parole officer to keep an eye on me. It is a part of my life that I was reluctant to divulge but the secret is out since Vantuil blew my cover. Log on as I suggested previously and use the password (maine2georgia). You will see my current location with a + below and to the R. Clicking on that will show my entire cookie trail.
The trip itself was uneventful. I was stuck at JFK for 6 hours. In the late afternoon I went out for a walk in the sun (you will see why later) and to gain access to open sky for the locator. At one point, I was approached by JFK security while I sat on the concrete at one end of a traffic island, leaning against a sign post reading my Kindle. (A scene fitting of Grandfather J. All I needed was a bag lunch) The officer was, I suppose, appropriately interested, especially after he noted the stubby antenna of the locator peeking out of my back pack, indicator lights flashing. Apparently I gave him a plausible explanation. He sent back to the terminal and suggested I not allow the police to catch me doing the same thing.
The flight was a flight. No meals were provided so I ate before boarding. Considering airline food, that is not a bad idea. After a perfunctory passport check with no questions, I collected my bags and waited for Einar.
The trip for Keflavik was remarkable for the fact that there was actually blue sky. In my 4 prior trips, it has always rained or snowed, often with a bluster wind. In fact, the whole day was sunny. Einar, Armand (Muncey) and I spent the better part of it in Salfoss talking about curriculum and what they have been up to. As a surprise, they arranged a flight for me over the S coast and Westman Islands, where both grew up. This cluster of islands (too small and close to be an archipelago) is part of a volcanic uprising with several obvious, small craters. The main island supports a year around population of 2400. This is the tropics of Iceland. Crops other than grass for cows grows here, even, allegedly the other kind.
As is typical of N Atlantic coastal weather, clouds and fog rolled in cutting things a bit short. All in all, however, it was really wonderful. Iceland is one of those places whose beauty is in part highlighted by its subtlety and sometimes starkness. This was even more apparent today. The flat coastal plains actually had some interesting bumps and accretions to provide some geography. There were irrigated fields that were more trapezoidal than rectangular with prior plow furrows outlined by the snow. Most interesting were the streams and creeks that wended, serpentine-like to the ocean. It was like looking at an Andy Goldsworthy piece of art, like the poster for the movie Rivers and Tides. From the air, the clouds and fog looked like a gathering dust storm right out of Lawrence of Arabia, converging on us from both sides. Our pilot was able to read it all well, maneuvering to get a good look and then landing before we were caught.
At the end of the day we headed W back to Reykjavik as the sun was dropping behind the mountains. I was treated to a most beautiful study of gray-scale lighting. The mountains had horizontal striations, layered irregularly with white snow and shadow-casting boulders. The effect was what seemed to be a complete spectrum of white to black with more shades of gray than were possible…but there they were. I wanted to stare but at the same time see everything at once as the shades changed and the contours morphed as we moved forward, the sun falling further behind the mountains.
I know the source of my genes.
It would have been nice to sleep in this weekend but with my brain still on EDT, I continue to wake up at 0400. No problem. I feel pretty good.
On Saturday, after breakfast and a coffee we headed off for a Buddhist teaching lead by Sogyal Rinpoche, the author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Although there is some controversy about his past, he is revered and beloved by the Bhutanese. His book is a good one. The session was informative, fun and inspirational. We spent the rest of the day hanging out and reading.
On Sunday we were able to engage a guide and driver to take us to the Tiger’s Lair (aka Tiger’s Nest), probably the most famous Buddhist shrine in Bhutan. Located at 3150 m (10,300 ft) and (apparently) suspended precariously on the edge of a cliff, it is really breathtaking. Although the climb up was challenging for me, it was well worth it.
It is hard to imagine how they built it. The path up is narrow and in some places pretty steep with great exposure. All the way up we were able to catch glimpses of it from various angles, bathed in sunlight one time and floating on mist another. The site itself is on a vertical cliff with not much of a ledge for support. The fact that a good portion of it had to be rebuilt with the aid of some 20th century tools after a 1998 fire in no way detracts from the original feat. I am not aware that the Bhutanese possessed the kind of great technological skills that the Incas had. Instead, the they have always been about inner exploration. This shrine is a testament to hard work and devotion to and inspiration of important spiritual icons and events. Again, Dharmasuri will embellish thinks with her picts.
Western Bhutan, between Thimbu and Paro seems to be relatively prosperous. Outside of Thimphu, agriculture thrives; commerce is developing in the city. The houses reflect the appearance of success. Most are multi-storied with walls built of compacted mud and straw (bricks are more in evidence in newer homes) and floors supported by large beams. They appear to be stoutly constructed. Windows and doors are framed by solid, wooden trim that is curved rather than horizontal and vertical. The exposed beam ends, posts and the trim covering the headers that support the roofs are intricately hand painted. The roofs are relatively flat and raised at the base so that there is ventilation space all around the building above the header supporting the roof. This configuration helps to ventilate and dry produce that is usually stored in the equivalent of an attic. Oftentimes the roofs, whether metal or long, wooden shingles, are held down, in place by rocks. Frequently the first floor areas house livestock. To my eye, these structures are an interesting hybrid between Asian buildings (the roofs) and Swiss alpine homes or structures.
The food has been surprisingly good for a vegetarian. Most meals consist of rice, beans and a variety roasted or fried vegetables. Most recently we have even been eating a lot of fiddlehead greens and asparagus. They like hot chilies in their food; I have been surprised by some fairly hot ones that have surprised me in some dishes. In fact, I have felt a bit like a glutton here. In addition to 3 meals/day, we have had tea twice/day complete with fried or baked vegetable hors d’oeuvres, like samosas.
Monday, we head toward Bumthang and Jakar in Central Bhutan. This will require a ten hour drive, up and downhill on curvy, narrow roads. Then we will have 2 days to recon. There are apparently plenty of shrines and sacred places to keep Dharmasuri occupied while we teach.